By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 22, 2006
Quoting Pope John Paul II, the opening speaker at the 2006 Eucharistic Congress said those who receive the Eucharist become “a living monstrance of the Savior of the world” carrying Jesus wherever they go.
At the same time, it is because they have received the Bread of Life that their eyes are opened to the needs of others.
The late pope said the Eucharist is “the necessary means to recognize the face of Christ in the faces of our brothers and sisters,” said Msgr. Kevin Irwin, dean of the school of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Msgr. Irwin and other speakers at the general track of the congress addressed the link between the Eucharist and “mission,” drawing upon Scriptures and the inspiration of the popes and the saints to underline that people of faith are meant to return constantly to the celebration of the Eucharist in order to be empowered for lives of faith and service.
“We become a living monstrance in the world of what we have celebrated,” Msgr. Irwin said. “The words we say in our offices, in the supermarket, at the convenience store, at the country club … this is where the Gospel needs to be preached as well. … It is more true today than ever that the only Gospel most people will ever come to know is the Gospel we live.”
The priest of the Archdiocese of New York humorously described his failed effort to live as a monk some years ago. The problem wasn’t the extended silence or the isolation or the ascetic lifestyle, he said. “The problem was the other monks.”
“Revere Christ in each other—that’s a challenge. That’s a part of the mystery of what the Eucharist is all about. … When it comes to living the Christian life … it is a question of living it with each other.”
And this radical Christian call to revere one another he believes is increasingly countercultural. “The magazine of the ‘80s was People, the magazine of the ‘90s was Us, the magazine of today is Self.”
By contrast, there are the parables of the Gospel in which an extravagant father rushes to welcome home his prodigal son and slaughters the fatted calf and a vineyard owner pays laborers who only work one hour a full day’s wage.
“Sometimes we don’t allow that shock (of God’s word) to penetrate into our own lives,” he said.
The process of making bread is for a grain of wheat to fall to the earth and die, and the making of wine involves crushing the grapes. There are areas each person has to die to “and that’s a struggle, we all know it, and to do it we need the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.”
“My friends, take up this challenge,” he concluded. “Understand Eucharist and mission. We can’t do one without the other.”
The second speaker, Father Bob Barron of the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the opening procession of banners from every corner of the archdiocese moved him to tears.
“It’s good for us to bring the faith out into the public,” he said, adding, “When we place the eucharistic Christ in the center of our ecclesial life, everything else falls into place.”
“That is why this morning was so beautiful—all of us kneeling, saying to Christ: You are the center, you are the center, you are the center.”
A doctor of theology and theology professor at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, Father Barron said that the Eucharist is “the life blood of the church” and those who consume the body and blood of Christ are meant to become “Christified”—so conformed to him that, like St. Paul, they can say, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
The Eucharist “proclaims the death of the Lord until he comes,” reminding the one who receives the Eucharist both of “the power of sin in your own life” and the peace offered by the risen Lord.
The risen Christ’s wounds remind believers “all is not well with us. We killed him when he came.” But “he offers compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence.” In the Eucharist, both the dying and the rising of Jesus are present again “that we might assimilate to ourselves this divine friendship.”
Keynote speaker Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, stepped off a nine-hour plane ride and arrived at the convention center just in time for his presentation.
In his decades of work for the Holy See, where he was Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and later the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland, he was most impacted by two archbishops, one Polish and one Vietnamese, whom he came to know.
The Polish cleric had spent years in a concentration camp where he had been the victim of medical experimentation. The Vietnamese archbishop spent 15 years in prison and was finally exiled from his homeland, which he never saw again.
“You can imagine the story of suffering these two men experienced,” Archbishop Martin said. “But why I remember them today is about how they spoke about the Eucharist … how they managed to celebrate the Eucharist almost daily, they told of makeshift vestments, how the Eucharist was smuggled around prison camps and jails to other Christians they never saw.”
“Any risk was worth taking in order to ensure that eucharistic presence and strength in their lives,” he said. “It brought light and life and hope into their deepest darkness.”
It also kept them from becoming destroyed or embittered by their horrific experiences, he said, and both were men of peace.
“It is perhaps only when one is deprived of the Eucharist that one understands the bond between the Eucharist and life,” the archbishop said.
He encouraged the gathering to reflect on the gratuitous and superabundant qualities of God’s love. Gratuitous love wants others to bring their talents and capacities to the full, “loving without asking for any reward or without placing any precondition.”
God’s superabundant love reveals “a God who goes way beyond what is considered reasonable.” As in the parable of the prodigal son, “God is on the brim of the hill every evening hoping he will be able to embrace that waster. God rejoicing goes way beyond anything we in our calculating measure would imagine.”
He envisions God’s “gratuitous superabundant love” as a “non-stick zone for price tags” and a countercultural response to a world where everyone minds their own business.
The destitution facing many nations and regions of the world, from child soldiers to child laborers, to those without clean water, shelter and hospitals for the sick, calls for a response of love. It is important to have a clear, personal link with poor people in other parts of the world and to care for them.
“Poverty is, above all, the inability to realize God-given potential. Fighting poverty then is about enhancing people. It is enriching, enabling people themselves to realize their potential,” he concluded. “Whatever we do in the area of justice, we don’t do it for ourselves, we do it for the person. … The law of the universe is self-giving love.”
In her talk Sister Anita Baird, DHM, director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for Racial Justice, emphasized that the Eucharist “calls us to be one” and that there should be no place in the body of Christ for racism, hatred of others or walls of separation.
“We need to analyze how we live,” she said. “It means nothing if we do not go out and become the body of Christ.”
“To become what we eat is no longer to keep silence in front of what is considered to be politically correct. To become what we eat is to be concerned about the cry of the poor, to stand up and announce with force a new era of love,” she said of the Eucharist. “The cry of the poor inspires fear and it provokes rejection, but if we listen with the heart of Christ our hearts will be awakened.”
Active in the work of the church for several decades, she said, “In every one of our churches the welcome mat should be out, the invitation should be given—come, there is a place for the disabled, there is a place for the poor, there is a place for the rich, the welcome mat is out for all of God’s children.”
In his lively presentation, Raymond Arroyo, news director and lead anchor for the Eternal Word Television Network, spoke on his relationship with “the mother of Catholic media” Mother Angelica, who “fell into” her vocation as a “media matriarch.” Her popular Bible study moved onto a local TV channel in the 1970s. When that same station refused to pull a TV program that refuted Christ’s divinity, she vowed to start her own TV studio. In a two-car garage being built by the then small Birmingham, Ala., monastery, she launched her TV channel. Divine providence delivered a much-needed $600,000 check in the nick of time for the down payment on a $2.5-million satellite dish. The story goes that she had bought the dish from a company in Atlanta with no money in hand, Arroyo explained. When the men arrived with it, still broke, Mother Angelica visited the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, telling the Lord she had bought the dish for Him. When she emerged, she finally returned a call from an unknown man she had put off many times earlier that day. This man had seen some of her programs, which changed his seedy life. He wished to make a $600,000 donation.
Arroyo spoke on the difficulties Mother Angelica encountered in her life, including a debilitating condition that affected her legs. She made a pact with God, he said, that if she could walk she would build a monastery.
“Jesus can take the scraps and make something from them,” he said, referring to one of Mother Angelica’s sayings. Throughout his presentation, Arroyo broke into a convincing rendition of Mother Angelica’s voice, delivering other small bits of wisdom: “Be a dodo. … Do the ridiculous so God can do the miraculous.”
Taking the first step and trusting in grace resulted in his recent biography of the famous nun. For three years, Arroyo spent hours on Saturday listening to Mother Angelica tell her life story, crafting that story into a bestselling book.
He offered two other pearls of wisdom from the famous nun: “Embrace risk in the present moment and fly to the Eucharist!”
Suzanne Haugh also contributed to this story.